Teenage spoilt brat Jennifer doesn’t like his father’s new French wife, Nichole. Jennifer is involved in the new ‘Beat’ scene in London and feels completely alienated, bored and like anyone older than her is ‘square’. Through a strange coincidence, Jennifer learns that her new stepmother used to strip in Paris which leads Jennifer to venture inside Christopher Lee’s creepy and forbidden strip club which is situated opposite the Kensington cafe bar she frequents.
Beat Girl works on several different levels. On one level, it’s one of the ‘new youth cult’ films that were made to cater to the new youth culture that was emerging and also to scare the pants off any older viewers who were probably reading with horror the moral panics being whipped up by the tabloid media of the day regarding these shocking new teenage cults. As a testament to this, Beat Girl ran into problems with the censorship board, The British Board of Film Classification. The person who classified the film called it ‘machine-made dirt’ and said that it was ‘the worst script I have read for some years’. When it was submitted it had the much more shocking title of ‘Striptease Girl’ and was hastily renamed to Beat Girl to try to avoid any more controversy. Whilst the film was released eventually with an X certificate, the board objected to the scenes of exotic dancing, the scene in which the teens play chicken and place their heads on railway tracks as a train is approaching (Beat Girl was named Wild For Kicks in the US when it was released) and the general tone of juvenile delinquency. Some prints are actually missing these scenes.
On another level, this is a ‘pop star’ film. These types of movies were popular in the 50s and onwards in which a popular singer would bolster a cast and might sing a few numbers within the course of the movie. Beat Girl features Adam Faith and he does sing a few songs but this isn’t exclusively a vehicle just for him. There is much more going on. And some of that is very dark indeed for a film of this ilk.
Christopher Lee’s sleazy underworld owner of his sleazy underworld strip joint is a fantastic ingredient of the film. His character provides a layer of darkness within the movie that truly makes it feel dangerous and a lot darker. This type of character and this side of London hadn’t been depicted on celluloid many times before this time. We had never seen inside a strip joint (Les Girls actually seems quite a classy joint in the film) in a British film before this. This excursion is most welcome.
Add to this the exotic dance routine we see (it’s still quite risque) and the fantastic soundtrack by the John Barry Seven (yes, that John Barry did the music and it’s fantastic) and you have a cult curio film that still stands up and is a fantastic piece of cult cinema. As Shirley Ann Fields would say it’s ‘over and out!’
I remember in the late 80s that one of my local TV stations, Tyne Tees Television bought the rights to most of the films made by the Hammer Studios which meant that I got to see most of the movies that this prolific studio produced. It also meant that I got to see the more obscure output that hadn’t been shown on TV before.
One horror movie that I remember as one of the best made by Hammer was Hands of the Ripper from 1971. This played at the cinema with the equally brilliant Twins of Evil after its initial release.
Jack The Ripper’s young daughter Anna sees her father kill her mother. A few years later, as a young woman, she finds that she lapses into trance-like states in which she exhibits her father’s murderous impulses. After bumping someone off she has no memory of actually doing it. After killing the woman who had adopted her from an orphanage years before, she is taken under the wing of a psychoanalyst named Pritchard who takes her to live with him, his family and maids.
Sometimes when I watch a period horror film I think, ‘This is going to be dry, dull and boring’. Hands of the Ripper is the exact opposite. It’s a cracking horror film. Peter Sasdy’s direction ensures that the murders are brilliantly executed and in a few instances, they completely take the audience by surprise. I also love the bright red blood. It’s very Dawn of the Dead.
There are many stars of British TV of the 70s and 80s peppered throughout the cast such as Dora Bryan, Lynda Baron and Molly Weir who all contribute to a great emsemble. But it’s Angharad Rees as Anna who steals the show. Watch how her face mutates into a mask of twisted hatred when she is possessed by Pops.
Hands of the Ripper is one of the best horror films made by Hammer Studios and is one of my favourites.
I finally got to see The Sorcerers which I remember my Film lecturer told me was his favourite horror film of all time back in the day.
An elderly couple played by Boris Karloff and Catherine Lacey have developed a machine that enables them to live vicariously through whoever has been through the brainwashing process that the machine performs. Step forward Ian Ogilvy (pre The Saint). Not only can they now live through him but they can also force him to do whatever they demand.
But whilst living through this young man helps them feel young again, one of the elderly couple has different ideas as Lacey firstly gets him to steal a fur coat for her. Things quickly get even more out of hand with Lacey’s character forcing her young subject to murder anyone who gets in his way.
I loved this movie. Swinging 60’s London never looked so groovy and psychedelic. The brainwashing sequence brought to mind the back cover portraits of The Velvet Underground and Nico from their landmark album. It’s all projected coloured swirls over facial features.
The entire cast are fantastic but particularly Lacey and Karloff as the couple who very quickly realise that they have different ideas as to what they want Ogilvy to do for them.
Director Michael Reeves shows that he had his finger on the pulse when it came to portraying Swinging London but also had a great understanding of horror cinema as the dark side of his film is brilliantly effective. He portrays the Jack The Ripper side of Ol London Town fantastically.
After the death of their daughter by drowning, John and Laura Baxter (played brilliantly by Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie) decide to go to Venice as John has an assignment there restoring a church. It’s here that Laura crosses paths with an elderly pair of sisters named Heather and Wendy, one of whom claims to have the gift of second sight even though she is blind. She claims to see their deceased daughter which prompts Laura to faint. After Laura’s recovery the couple venture out to a restaurant but after getting separated, John glimpses a small figure dressed in red which promptly makes him think of his daughter who was wearing a red raincoat when she drowned.
Laura then attends a séance held by the two women who had told her about her daughter. Heather predicts that John is in danger and must leave Venice. However, they then get word that their son who is attending boarding school back in England has been involved in an accident. Laura leaves Venice to attend to their son whilst John stays on to continue restoring the ancient church. John is nearly killed within the church when scaffolding holding him collapses. The foretelling of this incident now makes sense to John who now thinks that this was the danger that the elderly sisters had predicted would befall him.
But then John sees Laura on a boat with the two women, all dressed in black. He also keeps on seeing the figure in red who proves to be as allusive as it is omnipresent. What could this all mean?
Don’t Look Now is one of the most unsettling films I’ve ever seen. Not only is the locale of Venice used to great effect (this Venice is very far removed from Cornetto adverts) but it becomes a character in it’s own right within the film. And a very sinister, macabre character at that.
The fact that all of the film’s events are playing out with the news that there is a serial killer on the loose in the city makes for very uncomfortable viewing indeed and adds an extra layer of horror to proceedings.
Don’t Look Now and it’s locale would later inspire Siouxsie and the Banshees to film the video for their cover version of Dear Prudence there.
The character of the old woman with second sight whilst being blind (her eyes are a milky hue due to her blindness) who predicts horrific events in the future for John is crepiness, literally, personified.
Look out for the use of the colour red within the film too. The red of John and Laura’s drowned daughter’s mac, the red of the figure who darts around Venice, the red of the photograph negative slide that Laura has accidentally spilt her drink on…
And speaking of the drowning scene near the film’s beginning, this must be one of the most harrowing opening sequences I’ve ever seen. It’s epic in magnitude and sets a blueprint for the calibre of acting we’re to see throughout the rest of the movie especially from Sutherland and Christie.
Also look out for the theme of water within the film. The drowning of Christine, the Baxter’s daughter and then the fact that they find themselves surrounded by water. There is also a horrific shot of the serial killer’s latest victim being recovered naked from the water of one of the canals. Water isn’t a giver of life within the film but a force that takes it away.
There is also a scene that proved to be very controversial when the film was released. There is a scene of John and Laura making love intercut with footage of the couple after this. At that point in the 1970’s, the censors weren’t ready for a scene that was too realistic for them (whilst not being gratuitous or graphic). Nine frames were removed from the American version of the film, whilst the BBFC passed the scene uncut in the UK.
The score by Pino Donnagio is just as haunting, surreal and disturbing as the action on the screen. It really is one of the greatest film scores I’ve ever heard and it will burrow it’s way into your brain in much the same way as the score for John Carpenter’s Halloween will. It really is a thing of disturbing beauty. This was also Donaggio’s introduction to the world of scoring films and it’s an impeccable first score for an impeccable career.
And then there’s the last scene. One of the most unsettling last scenes in horror history, most of you will now what I’m referring to. But for those few who haven’t had the pleasure of seeing it whilst projecting your popcorn bucket skyward in fright, then I’m sworn to secrecy.
In fact, if you’ve seen the ending of the film, I’m hoping you’ve seen the film as a whole rather than just this shocker of a scene on it’s own. Don’t Look Now is a film that will stay with you long after the end credits have rolled. After years of being buried by studio red tape, it was released but the print was very poor indeed. I can now say that in this wonderful age of Blu Ray and 4K the film has been restored and remastered and has never looked or sounded better.
Also, try to read Daphne Du Maurier’s short story that the film was based on. There even more detail in it and it’s just as brilliant as the film.
Don’t Look Now would make a great double-bill with Carnival of Souls.
Amongst the slew of Stephen King film adaptations that were released in the 80s was the film version of his fantastic 1981 novel, Cujo.
Cujo is the St Bernard dog who is bit by a rabid bat whilst he chases a rabbit. Slowly but surely he transforms from a loveable family dog into a slobbering, rabid killer.
There’s so much to love about the 1983 film that was based on one of King’s best books. Firstly, if Dee Wallace Stone is starring in a film, in my book, it instantly gets an extra star as her acting chops are superb. Her use of method acting especially within the horror movies she has starred in works very well indeed, even if the boring film purists would say that such a technique wouldn’t work with such a genre. As someone on the set of The Howling said ‘She actually believed that werewolves existed for the duration of her working on the movie!’ Which is exactly why she’s such a kick-ass actress. And her turn within Cujo is no different. Here she plays Donna Trenton, a woman who is having an affair with her high school old flame behind her advertising husband’s back.
Which brings us onto another reason why Cujo works so well. The film is faithful to the book (except for one MASSIVE plot point and I won’t be saying what it is. You need to watch this movie and read the book. You’ll thank me for this) and so King’s fantastic character arcs and the turmoil of their lives aren’t smoothed over or written out completely for this screen adaptation. And so we get adultery, domestic violence, alcoholism and someone’s career dying a death (in stark contrast to the 80’s Yuppie dream depicted in the adverts of the time).
We also get an extraordinary sequence involving Donna’s son going to bed and the nightmarish circumstances that surround such an event. This sequence is like a Siouxsie and the Banshees song made flesh. It’s exquisite. Kudos to director Lewis Teague, although the entire film is testament to his directorial genius.
And then we get the sequence based solely in their malfunctioning car as Donna and her son are held under siege in their vehicle by the rabid dog. Not since The Texas Chain Saw Massacre have we as an audience experienced the sticky, clammy suffocation of such stifling weather conditions as Donna has to think of how to get out of this situation as her son starts to experience the effects of dehydration. These scenes are worth the price of admission alone. We see Donna go from rationally trying to get out of this nightmare to becoming a fearless warrior as her maternal instincts kick in and she is prepared to do anything to save her son.
In fact, one of the things that amazes me the most about Cujo is how Wallace Stone didn’t get at least an Academy Award nomination for her portrayal. Yes, her performance is that good. In fact, I feel that within the sub-genre of Stephen Kind adaptations, Cujo is criminally underrated. It’s time for a proper reappraisal.
So I reinvestigated The Running Man last night. The last time I had watched it was in the 80’s on VHS. I remember it as not being one of Arnie’s best efforts.
On watching it now I found some of the worst acting I’ve ever seen from Arnie (which is REALLY saying something), hamfisted attempts at social commentary and more cheesiness than an Edam factory.
But maybe these aren’t criticisms because IT WORKED!
It’s a fun movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s also aged very well indeed with great special effects that look great as they pumped megabucks into the production. You get what you pay for (Yes, I’m thinking of you Escape From LA).
In fact, there was more than a passing nod to Escape From New York and They Live (but not as good as either).
I also love that it takes place in 2017. Their predictions as to life in the future are unerringly accurate (Alexa, booking a holiday through a screen, differing views being punishable by law…)
Also, we get a great supporting cast, fantastic source material and solid direction by Paul Michael Glaser. And I had forgotten about the iconic Harold Faltermeyer score.
I’m so glad I rewatched this noisy wild ride of a film.
Sam Bowden is a lawyer who finds that a criminal, Max Cady who he prosecuted resulting in him going to jail (he had attacked a young woman) has been released from prison. Cady starts a harassment campaign against Bowden and his family and is seemingly hellbent on making Sam suffer for his incarceration.
I knew of this film from when the Scorsese remake came out. I was in the midst of my love of all things Scorsese and thought his version of Cape Fear was very good. But that was until I saw the original.
For all of the visual frills, the over the top performance of De Niro as Cady and scenes that weren’t in the original (the thumb sucking scene instantly springs to mind as does the attack that resulted in the cheek biting gratuity) the remake isn’t as good as the original film. Sometimes, less is more as is the case with this film.
The 60’s version of Cape Fear is more understated, character-led and directed (by the underrated J Lee Thompson) with more restraint and is a much better film because of it.
The original feels less forced, more organic and features some much better performances from truly great actors such as Gregory Peck as Bowden and the great Robert Mitchum as Cady. Whenever Mitchum plays crazy he always excels and his portrayal of Cady is up there with his star turn in another fantastic shocker of a film, Night of the Hunter.
This isn’t to take away from the ’90s remake which is still a great film in its own right. But one great thing about it is that it might make more people aware that it is indeed a remake and so hopefully they may seek out the original. And they have a treat in store when they do.
Following a very messy suicide involving a shotgun (there’s a cameo by Ruby Wax who stars as a secretary), the American Ambassador to Britain position is now made vacant. It’s then filled by one Damian Thorn, businessman, politician and Son of the Devil. This was the job once held by his father, y’know, the one played by Gregory Peck in the first film.
The daggers that can kill Thorn are then found after The Thorn Museum’s remains are excavated after the building was destroyed by fire at the end of the previous film. Scientists then find that the Son of God is due to be born. We see this happen as Damian tosses and turns in bed, waking up in a cold sweat.
Thorn learns of this second coming and aims to kill all children born within the appropriate time frame. Meanwhile, a group of hardcore Christians seize hold of the daggers and aim to kill Thorn once and for all whilst also finding the new Son of God.
John Waters said in his book Crackpot that some of his favourite movies were the final instalments in movie franchises before their demise. He names several with this film being one of them as he calls it ‘the most ludicrous of all The Omens’. Is he right?
Yes, he is. Omen III: The Final Conflict is ludicrous but it’s also a very satisfying rollercoaster ride of a film. It combines the classiness of the original with the slasher movie nastiness of the first sequel and comes up with something that is very gory but also with a subtle undercurrent of black humour.
I loved the attempts to kill Thorn that were so inept that I felt like I was watching an ’80s horror version of The Ladykillers.
Sam Neill is perfectly cast as the adult Thorn. In fact, there are no missteps with the casting whatsoever.
The idea of the murder of loads of children reminded me of the bleak ending of another third film in a popular horror franchise, that of Halloween III: Season of the Witch. But whilst H3 still holds up for all of the right reasons (great acting, direction, cinematography and soundtrack to name but a few pluses), Omen III demands that the audience holds down the ‘suspend disbelief’ button in their minds.
The Omen III may be ludicrous but Waters still named it as an example of a film that is still noteworthy and still great fun. And he’s not wrong.
Jessica, her husband Duncan and their friend Woody arrive at a new house in the country that Jessica and Duncan have bought. When they arrive they are surprised to find someone squatting there. They ask this person, Emily to join them for their evening meal and then to sleep there for the night.
The next day Jessica asks Emily to stay at the house until she finds somewhere else to live. From here on in strange things start to happen to Jessica. She has already just been discharged from a psychiatric hospital into Duncan’s care and so she doesn’t share what is happening as she thinks Duncan and Woody will think these events aren’t real and are merely down to her psychological state.
In fact, the notion of gaslighting and the doubting of one’s reality feature prominently within the film.
Jessica starts to see a blonde girl who appears at chosen times but then runs away again. When she is out swimming, someone or something grabs her under the water.
Jessica and her husband find items in the attic that belonged to the previous owners of the house and decide to sell them to the antiques dealer in the local town. He tells them the history of the family who used to live in there- they were called the Bishops and their daughter Abigail drowned just before her wedding. But he tells them that locals say that in fact she isn’t dead and is in fact a vampire who is always on the hunt for fresh victims.
To give away any more plot points would be to ruin the film and so they will end there! Let’s Scare Jessica To Death is a fantastic gem of a film. Made in 1971 by director John Hancock, it has an air and feel all of its own. I love the fact that we are privy to Jessica’s thoughts which add another layer to the film and a palpable paranoia to proceedings.
There’s also the subtext of the city folk vs the locals that feels fresh here rather than cliched. And the locals of the local town are very unwelcoming indeed. In fact, they’re downright scary. And why are they all bandaged in some way?
There are elements of Carnival of Souls within the film and Hancock’s film feels like it had some kind of influence on Spielberg’s Something Evil (which, by the way, STILL hasn’t been issued on Blu Ray. Scream Factory are the perfect candidates for this. Just a thought).
Let’s Scare Jessica To Death is a forgotten gem that isn’t forgotten anymore. In fact, its reputation has deservedly snowballed since its original release.
Hancock went on to direct the early De Niro masterpiece Bang The Drum Slowly which is also highly recommended.
One of my earliest memories involves the film Friday the 13th (those who know me are rolling their eyes and thinking ‘This doesn’t surprise me!’) I’m 5 years old and I’m running towards my local cinema, The Odeon in York. I regularly go there when my family venture into town as there are posters and lobby cards outside the cinema to pore over in minute detail. This is especially rewarding when said artwork is for a horror film.
On this occasion Friday the 13th is showing and I’m ogling the poster and lobby cards like they are part of some ancient source of wisdom. What does it all mean? Who could be killing all the teens that the poster states were dying horribly one by one? What does the kindly older lady in one of the lobby cards have to do with this? Maybe she tries to save the teens throughout the course of the film…
It would be a few years before I finally got to see the film on video and my timing couldn’t have been better. I actually saw the first film after Part 3 which had just been released (more of that in a future article). A new, longer and gorier version of Part 1 was newly released on VHS (Warners actually initially got into trouble after it was discovered that an uncut version was originally released on video in the UK. This version has been successfully passed with an X rating for its UK cinema release. After the film was seized by police during the Video Nasties furore, Warners decided to play it safe and release the version that was cut to ensure an R rating in the US instead). This new video version was completely uncut and so I could see the film as it was intended to be seen.
I wasn’t disappointed. But after experiencing the series at Part 3 when a formula had been struck upon, I was surprised at how different the first film was compared to the rest of the series.
The film starts at the site where (most) of the rest of the series takes place, Camp Crystal Lake but here is a sequence that takes place in 1958. A couple of oh so wholesome teenaged camp counsellors have taken a break from singing ‘Michael, Row The Boat Ashore’ to find a more private place to make out. They are then found by an unseen assailant who kills them both.
We then get the credit sequence for the film which consists of the logo for the film crashing through an invisible pane of glass. This is reminiscent of the one-page ad that Sean S Cunningham took out in the film trade press magazine Variety to reserve the name of ‘Friday the 13th’ as the name for a horror movie after Halloween had been such a success. Cunningham was thinking of other occasions that would also be great for the basis of a horror movie and so that no one else would base a film around that day traditionally associated with bad luck. Conversely, if anyone else had already used the same name for their project in the past, they would see the ad and approach Cunningham to ask him to change the title of his projected movie and avoid a potential lawsuit.
The ad was also a great way to see if any potential backers could be encouraged to stump up the cash for the project that didn’t even have a cast, crew or even screenplay attached to it. The project literally just had the film’s name.
The film then flashes forward to Friday 13th June, The Present Day as an onscreen caption informs us. Teen Annie is making the journey to the same camp to be their cook. Annie is very irritating from the outset as she sees a nearby dog, asks it if it knows where Camp Crystal Lake is (the dog whimpers and walks off. And for good reason) and so she ventures into a nearby diner to ask the same question. She hitches a ride with a trucker who during their journey tries to dissuade her from taking on the role. He talks about the camp being jinxed with two kids being killed there in ’58 (the prelude to the film), the young kid who drowned in ’57 (more about him later), fires being started later on and even bad water preventing the camp from being reopened in ’62. Annie takes not one bit of notice of the old coot and ventures onto her new job.
After she is dropped off by her new trucker friend, she is then picked up to complete her journey by someone in a 4×4. Who could this mystery person be? Annie notices that the driver has missed the turn-off for the summer camp and appears to be travelling insanely fast. Annie decides to jump from the moving vehicle and make a run for it from this nutjob, even though she twisted her ankle.
Annie decides to escape through the forest that surrounds her but is pursued and eventually caught by the person who was driving the 4×4, identity still undisclosed who slashes her throat.
Two things are remarkable about this scene. Firstly, it was a young Tom Savini who is doing the special effects for the movie and they are nothing short of amazing. Annie’s death is a prime example. Secondly, the killer’s identity hasn’t been revealed and so it gives the film the flavour of a Giallo film with the film being as much a whodunnit as it is a horror movie.
Annie’s murder happens in front of our eyes as does the demise of several other characters but the film also shows that it can be very restrained and wasn’t just interested in blood and gore. The characters of Ned and Brenda are both murdered off-camera with their corpses being revealed later to the audience throughout the course of the film. Ned goes to investigate a noise that he’s heard and his mutilated corpse is later shown to be on the top bunk of a bed whilst Jack and Marcie make love in the bunk below.
Brenda goes to respond to a cry for help in the pouring rain at the archery range later in the movie but we don’t get to see her death but just hear her scream. Her body is then thrown through the window when Alice has barricaded herself in a cabin after discovering Bill’s dead body pinned to the generator door.
Likewise, Bill’s dead body resplendent with arrows is discovered by Alice but the actual murder is never shown. The script for the film references his dead body as being ‘in a travesty of the martyrdom of St. Sebastian’ (the painting of San Sebastian below is by Andrea Mantegna)
The characters who make up the counsellors are actually quite endearing rather than the irritating specimens from other slasher movies who you can’t wait to bite the bullet. And yes, one of the actors (Kevin Bacon) went on to much bigger things. Bill is also played by Harry Crosby whose Dad was Bing Crosby.
The person who is reopening the summer camp is Steve Christy, the son of the original owner from decades before. I love the fact that he looks like he belongs on the cast of a 70’s gay porn movie. A coloured hankie (worn around his neck rather than in either his left or right back pocket), bare chest, denim shorts (almost Daisy Dukes) and lumberjack boots are all dead giveaways. Maybe he mistook Camp Crystal Lake for Fire Island.
Fun fact- the movie was filmed at Camp No-Be-Bo-Sco in Blairstown, New Jersey. The guy who owned the site was called Fred Smith and he kept talking about his neighbour called Lou. And then his neighbour came to the set for the first time. And it was Lou Reed! People on set said that he visited the set several times and was super nice with everyone. One day, he even pulled out a guitar and performed a few songs for the cast and crew. Can you imagine being on the set of Friday the 13th and watching Lou Reed perform?! That’s a truckload of awesome right there.
Cast members also say that because the crew were all from New York City they would constantly play the likes of The Ramones and Patti Smith on set which is also awesome.
The final girl Alice shows from the outset that she is resourceful whether it’s getting cabins ready or nailing up guttering. She is also shown to be artistic judging by her drawings.
But more importantly, she is later shown to be resourceful and logical when under pressure such as after she has discovered Bill’s body pinned to the back of the generator room door. She dashes back to the main cabin and starts to try and secure the front door with a rope lassoed over a wooden beam and barricading it with a chest of drawers, a chair and logs. She then arms herself with a baseball bat and cooking fork.
But she also diverges from the so-called slasher movie conventions for Final Girls as stipulated in Carol J Clover’s seminal mediation on gender in the slasher film genre, Men Women and Chainsaws. She is seen to be in an on-off relationship with Steve Christy rather than being a chaste virgin. She is also shown to participate in a game of Strip Monopoly and can even be seen having a sneaky toke on a spliff.
But, Alice also has the Final Girl quality of foreshadowing or being almost psychic that something bad is going to happen. When things start to go wrong later on in the film and Bill and Alice are looking for their co-counsellors, Alice senses that things aren’t right. She even suggests that they could hike out of the camp to get away to safety.
Another facet of Friday the 13th that sets it apart from the other movies in the franchise are the moments of comedy that occur. The character of the cop on his motorbike comes out of nowhere and feels like a prototype Tackleberry from Police Academy.
Crazy Ralph acts as both a comedy figure (watch the hilariously awkward cycling scenes) and as a freaky, quasi-religious doom bringer (‘I’m a Messenger of God!’ ‘It’s got a death curse!’ ‘You’re all doomed!’) who can be seen as another and lesser source of fear for the film’s characters. Check out the scene in which Ralph steps out of the pantry and startles Alice.
But he also acts as a genuine predictor of bad things to come at the camp as we will see throughout the film’s running time. Notice when Ralph is actually on campgrounds. He can’t wait to get away fast enough whether on foot or on his pushbike.
Within the slasher movie conventions there normally is one member of the ensemble who displays almost psychic qualities and who very quickly foresees the terror that awaits everyone and in some instances, they can become quite hysterical because of it. A good example of this in a horror/quasi-slasher movie in which a group of people get picked off one by one is Lambert in Alien.
There’s also the speech from Marcie regarding her not liking storms after one has started at the camp. It’s because of a dream she’s had on numerous occasions in which she’s watching a storm with the rain coming down heavier and heavier which then suddenly turns to blood. This was actually the piece of dialogue from the screenplay that the actresses auditioning for a part in the film would have to recite.
But the jewel in the crown of Friday the 13th is the killer and the person who portrayed her. Firstly, the killer is shown to be Pamela Voorhees- a woman. This was completely unheard of then in horror movies and a massively unexpected twist for the film. The idea of a psychotic woman was still taboo in real life and the movies and this is something that the movie uses beautifully. Mrs Voorhees is introduced near the very end of the film. Events that happen after this are worthy of in-depth analysis to highlight what an extraordinary character she is and what a truly awe-inspiring performance this is.
But first, we have a slight detour. Notice how Alice’s raincoat gets caught on the handle for the oven? She just allows it to come off naturally rather than unhooking the part that has become caught. Was this because the later fight scene that was to come involved biting? Even Mrs Voorhees couldn’t have made much of an impact on trying to bite through the thick yellow plastic of a raincoat (although with her gnashers she might have been able to…more on that later).
Also, notice how after we’ve seen Alice barricade the front door we then see her remove all of the furniture she had placed in front of it because she sees some headlights approaching. It’s a wonderfully surreal moment.
The killer being female works well within the film. See how after Alice has started to uncover the dead bodies of her fellow camp counsellors, on running outside she sees Mrs Voorhees and after asking who she is (‘Why I’m Mrs Voorhees, an old friend of the Christies’) she is happy enough with the explanation to run into Pamela’s arms for reassurance and to tell her about the horrors she has just discovered. If this person had been male, Alice would have been a lot less trusting and more suspicious. He could have been the person responsible for these atrocities. But with this stranger being female and traditionally seen as nurturing, caring and empathetic, Alice feels satisfied to try to get her help and get to safety.
Betsy Palmer played the role and had been typecast throughout her career as ‘the girl next door’. For an actress with a reputation for being wholesome and unthreatening to take up this role was a massive shock. Palmer had up until this moment been eager to break this typecasting but had actually taken on the project after her car had broken down. She had seen an ad for a cool little car called a Scirocco which her role in this film would pay for. She read the script, thought it was in her own words ‘a piece of ****’ and thought that the movie would disappear without a trace but she’d still get her car!
But Ms Palmer was too much of a consummate professional to just turn in some anaemic performance by numbers and gives us such a turn that her performance is still one of the most chilling and insane depictions I’ve ever seen in a horror movie.
A red flag that appears for Alice at the start of this encounter is that Mrs Voorhees doesn’t appear to be afraid whatsoever and goes into the cabin to investigate even though Alice has told her about the camp counsellors who have been killed and whose bloodied and mutilated bodies she has been unfortunate to have seen. She even tries to gaslight Alice by saying that it’s the storm that has made her afraid rather than anything else. When Pamela insists on investigating further, Alice pleads with her not to as she could be killed too. ‘I’m not afraid!’ Pamela asserts and ventures into the cabin. The fact that Mrs Voorhees isn’t scared about this strongly suggests that she’s either, very brave, very dumb or that she’s the killer.
On entering the cabin, Pamela sees Brenda’s body and laments about how young she was and ponders what kind of monster could have done such a thing (a huge red flag as she is the killer. She appears to be unable to reconcile herself with the fact that she is the killer or she suffers from multiple personalities). She also opines how Steve should never have opened the place again as there’s been too much trouble.
Her speech then becomes more agitated when she starts to talk about a young boy who had drowned years before and how the young counsellors who should have been watching him had been too busy making love. Notice Alice’s body language here. She knows all is not right with her current situation and her new acquaintance.
Pamela explains that the person who drowned was actually her son and that not only was she the cook at the camp then but was actually working the day he drowned. Her ability to unpredictably become violent is shown as she says that Jason ‘should have been watched every minute’ and grabs Alice by the arms and gives her an abrupt shake to emphasise the point. She is just about to disclose that her son was disabled but quickly stops herself and mentions that he ‘wasn’t a very good swimmer’ instead (this also stops her reminiscences that are becoming violent and brings her back to earth again).
She then suggests that Alice and her ‘can go now’ as she strokes Alice’s hair. But Alice’s hunch that all is not right means she resists this as she says that instead, they should wait for Steve Christy to come back. Voorhees says ‘That’s not necessary’ which is another red flag (as she’s killed Christy) before she starts to have flashbacks to her son drowning. She even starts to respond to her son’s pleas for help within the flashback. Oh boy.
This part of the scene is also very interesting as within the original script it was very different. There was a whole plotline in which we’d have a clue as to the killer’s identity. The murder of Barry and Claudine (the frisky counsellors who are the first to be killed during the film) originally would see Mrs Voorhees (who would still remain faceless within the sequence so that the film still had the ‘whodunnit’ aspect to it) lose her small finger. During the scene in which Mrs Voorhees’ character is introduced and Alice is realising that she’s a nutjob, when she says to Alice that they ‘can go now’ Pamela was going to stroke Alice’s hair and the audience would see that she’s missing her little finger thus revealing that she’s the killer. This ‘missing finger’ idea feels like something from a Giallo movie and was used a couple of years after in Lucio Fulci’s movie The New York Ripper which featured a character who was missing two fingers from his right hand.
This part of the scene shows that Alice’s hunches were spot-on and she’s now with someone who is very deranged and very dangerous. Mrs Voorhees explains that Jason was her son and today is his birthday (whilst fixing a very scary grin on her face). Alice asks about where Mr Christy is but this goes unheard by Pamela who is in the zone and thinking aloud that she couldn’t let them open the summer camp again, could she? Not after that had happened. She then laments her ‘sweet, innocent Jason’ whilst again visualising him drowning.
However, this is abruptly shattered as she then starts to personally accuse Alice of letting her son drown and of not paying any attention. Her raison d’être is now revealed. She is forever avenging the death of her son by killing the camp counsellors who are just as horny and irresponsible as Barry and Claudine who weren’t watching Jason. If they had watched him he wouldn’t be dead now.
To emphasise that she has now turned very nasty indeed she knocks over a table that is in her way.
Mrs Voorhees then reveals that she is wearing a knife in a holder strapped around her waist (one hell of a way to accessorise) that instantly reminded me of the Manson Family and also the character of Crackers in the John Waters film Pink Flamingos who also wore the same thing which is visible during the home invasion scene within the film. Waters was seemingly Manson obsessed at the time and so the two could have been connected.
Pamela goes for Alice with the knife but it is batted away with a poker that Alice grabs who then hits Pamela with it on the back as she falls down.
What happens next is that Alice discovers more bodies in what constitutes a kind of ‘Big Reveal’ or ‘shocking denouement’ in which The Final Girl (Alice) is in no doubt that her adversary (in this instance, Mrs Voorhees) is murderous and that her life is in serious danger. She must now fight for her life against this foe or she will end up the same way as the other victims that have now been revealed to her in such a dramatic fashion. The idea of the ‘Big Reveal’ is a slasher movie convention with the most obvious example being from 1978’s Halloween in which Laurie goes over to the house across the street and finds the victims of Michael Myers that are revealed in ghoulish fashion.
She races outside to the 4×4 that Mrs Voorhees arrived in and sees the dead mutilated body of Annie the camp cook who never actually made it to the camp (not alive anyway. Does that mean that Mrs Voorhees was driving around for most of the day with Annie’s dead body in the passenger seat?! I hope so) and then the body of Steve Christy who has been suspended upside down from a tree and suddenly flops down as Alice approaches.
As Alice is revealing the bodies that have been placed in her path, Mrs Voorhees gets up after being struck with the poker. This sequence is another example of how ‘in the zone’ Betsy Palmer was. Notice her gait and body language as she gets up and gets ready for Round 2. She looks almost inhumane, almost supernatural. As we’ll see later, Betsy Palmer truly went the extra mile for this performance and made her character into something almost paranormally chilling not just with the delivery of her lines but also through her body and the shapes she throws as the character. This performance really is something extra special.
As Alice runs into the woods we see Pamela recover from the blow from the poker and rise to her feet. She sees her quarry running away and starts talking in her son’s voice. ‘Kill her Mommy! Kill her! Don’t let her get away, Mommy! Don’t let her live!’ to which she responds in her own voice, ‘I won’t Jason! I won’t!’
This internal monologue that we’re privileged to see where Pamela is taking on the voice and persona of her dead son and then replying as herself is really something to behold. If there’s only one thing scarier than Pamela’s voice here, it’s when the camera cuts back to her to an extreme close-up of her eyes, nose and mouth. And this shows another scary thing about the film and Mrs Voorhees’ character- her teeth. She appears to have twice the number of teeth of an average person and in certain shots, she looks like half-woman, half-piranha.
Alice makes it to another cabin and finds a gun but no bullets. Mrs Voorhees enters and states ‘Come, dear. It’ll be easier for you then it was for Jason!’ She then channels her dead son whilst saying (with the camera in extreme close-up of her face again which is again very unsettling) ‘Kill her, Mommy! Kill her!’ whilst advancing on Alice. Alice tries to strike Voorhees with the gun but this is quickly batted away by Pamela. Check out the noise she makes when she does this. It’s a cross between a really evil alley cat and something otherworldly and completely pissed off. I love the part of this sequence in which Alice throws random objects at Voorhees who merely deflects them away with her arms (and even underneath her chin!) with a rictus grin on her face.
When Pamela actually gets to Alice she gives her a good slapping and then throws her onto a table and gives her another round of slaps (this part of the sequence is fantastically directed with the camera acting as a POV shot for Alice so that it looks like Mrs Voorhees is actually slapping around the audience. And look at how chilling and otherworldly Palmer’s performance is here).
The camera as the POV for Alice also gives us an idea of how close to Alice Mrs Voorhees gets which makes the experience so much more unsettling and chillingly personal. This was a great directorial device.
Alice then uses the rifle to strike her in the crotch (yes, really) and then in the face.
Again, as Alice gets away we get to hear Voorhees in voiceover as she says in her son’s voice ‘Kill her, Mommy! Kill her! She can’t hide! No place to hide! Get her, Mommy! Get her! Kill her! Kill her!’ Her mouth is then superimposed over footage of Alice getting to the main cabin again as she speaks as Jason.
Alice then hides in the pantry and hears Pamela entering the cabin as she can hear objects being broken and smashed to the ground. There is a very creepy shot in which we see the lights in the cabin being switched on and light streaming in between the gaps of the planks that make up the pantry’s wooden door. There is also a great shot of the door handle that Alice is crouched below suddenly turning.
And what happens is the second most famous (or infamous) scene of someone breaking down a door in film that year. The first, of course, is that of Jack Nicholson in The Shining. This is interesting as well as Betsy Palmer says that when her performance was getting a little too over the top, Sean Cunningham would rein her back in by saying ‘Remember Jack Nicholson in The Shining’ as if to remind her not to get too exaggerated as Pamela Voorhees. The only thing is that The Shining hadn’t been released by the time shooting started on Friday the 13th. Maybe time had affected memories and facts.
As Voorhees gets into the pantry she takes an impressive swing with a machete (some serious foreshadowing for the rest of the franchise here!) but it is batted away by Alice who uses a frying pan which she also strikes Voorhees on the head with. She turns the unconscious Pamela over with her foot and on seeing blood coming from her head decides that she won’t be getting up again and that she is safe.
She then goes down to the beach but is then confronted by Voorhees once again. It is during this tussle that Voorhees bites Alice’s arm.
It is of course this sequence that ends with Alice picking up the machete that Pamela had tried to attack her with and beheads her with it. Check out Pamela as she gets up just before she has her head lopped off. She has all of the abnormal and very scary gait of one of the skeletons modelled by Ray Harryhausen from the movie Jason and the Argonauts. Her body is all right angles complete with a demonic expression on her face.
Her beheading puts paid to this with her startled expression as Alice literally chops off her head. This is Savini’s piece de resistance for a movie that features some of his best work. This sequence would have been outrageous for a horror audience in 1980 as nothing as graphic had been seen within a mainstream horror movie up until this point. The fact that Voorhees’s hands are clenching and opening again as her headless body falls to the floor makes it all the more graphic (and blackly funny). Alice gets into one of the canoes and lets it drift into the lake.
But there is one more scare that Cunningham has up his sleeve for the audience. We see Alice in the canoe with it now being daytime. I love how this scene is softly lit like some kind of sanitary towel commercial. ‘Yes, you too can canoe with confidence! Even during that time of the month…’
Of course, everything points to the fact that Alice is now victorious and safe. The music playing over the soundtrack is piano music along with a slightly off-kilter synth giving the scene a surreal slant.
Then when the audience is lulled into this being the end of the movie with the Final Girl enjoying the tranquillity of the lake, Jason’s rotting and algaed body leaps up out of the water and pulls her under.
And this scene shows another example of Tom Savini’s genius- the rotting corpse of Jason who had been in the lake all of this time.
We are then shaken out of this with a close up of Alice’s screaming face as she’s just been shocked awake by a nightmare as she resides in a hospital bed.
As if events haven’t been traumatic enough for her she then has the indignity of being forced to get a shot of sedative in the butt whilst her doctor and a local policeman look on.
I’m also loving the silent doctor in this scene. The raising of his eyebrows indicates that he’s either an acting genius or was merely brought in at the last minute. I’ll leave it up to you to decide which one is most likely the case.
She enquires whether there was anyone else who actually survived but the policeman lets her know that there were unfortunately no other survivors. She then asks about the boy Jason who pulled her into the lake that the police recovered her from. The policeman looks quizzically at her and says that there was no sign of any boy. ‘Then he’s still there’ she states. And with this and one last shot of the lake and a ripple on its surface, a horror franchise was born.
It’s great that another star of the movie is given the last shot and that is the beautiful lake and shoreline.
The film was hated by critics on its release. Gene Siskel from The Chicago Tribune got his knickers in such a bunch over the film and the fact that *shock horror* Betsy Palmer could star in such a movie that he published the name of the town that she lived in and asked people to send hate mail to the Post Office there so that the letters of disapproval could be forwarded to her. But he published the name of the wrong town. D’oh! He even relished giving away the ending of the film as to her character being the killer. His review reads more like a narcissistic tantrum from a man-child than a rational review by an adult film critic.
But who cares what stuffy and pretentious film critics thought. The film opened and did amazing business eventually making $59.8m against its budget of $550,000.
Fun fact- the credit sequence for Star Wars cost more than the entire budget for the first Friday the 13th film.
Yes, Friday the 13th isn’t Halloween, the film Cunningham looked to to outline a formula for a film that was familiar enough to make money. But then again, few horror films or indeed any films are as good as Halloween. But whilst Carpenter’s masterpiece is an A+ movie, Friday the 13th is a B+ movie. It’s interesting to see the embryonic first film in a franchise before a formula was struck upon. There are murders and suspense but also quirky characters, a whodunnit element that feels like something out of a Giallo film and a performance that is truly one of the best (and most deranged) in horror history. Add to this a killer (pun not intended) soundtrack and you have a bona fide cult classic.
But also, the first 4 films in the franchise embody a golden time for horror fans as there was a renaissance for the genre that was largely down to the slasher sub-genre. Filmmakers and studios were seeing that horror was profitable and so it was almost as if there was a new slasher movie or horror film released every week. The newly formed Fangoria Magazine embodied this new golden era. The Friday the 13th franchise and Fangoria Magazine almost mirrored each other and captured the magic and innocence of the time and the 80’s in particular. Issue 6 wrote about Friday the 13th around the film’s release in an article that examined how Tom Savini created the effects for the film.
For all of these reasons, this is why Friday the 13th is in the Meathook Cinema Hall of Fame.